The City of Mounds View is home to a diverse population whose roots include the east and west
coasts of Africa, the Pacific Rim, and Eastern Europe. With an array of cultures and lifestyles converging, the city — its Police Department in particular — has been intentional in engaging its people.
|Police have found the portable climbing wall to |
be a great tool to connect with young people
When Police Chief Nate Harder began serving Mounds View four years ago, he brought visions of community outreach with him. Emphasizing relationships and common ground, Harder, the Police Department, and the city have been working extensively to create a welcoming atmosphere for all residents through programs and events.
The Police Department’s long list of community outreach efforts offer opportunities for all residents. “Equity is a big deal in this community,” says Harder. “We want to target every group we have in the City of Mounds View because we want to build relationships.”
Establishing positive police and community relations took a considerable amount of creativity and dedication. The city’s financial situation was tight with budget increases limited to 2% per year, plus inflation. The Police Department developed many partnerships and even started a nonprofit organization run by interested residents to generate resources for community outreach efforts.
The nonprofit organization, The Mounds View Police Foundation, plays an important role in supporting the Police Department’s efforts. Volunteers give time and talent and help secure grant funding. The Police Department also partners with several community groups, organizations, and businesses for many of their numerous engagement efforts.
Variety of programming
The Mounds View Police Department has programs and events for every type of resident. To engage youth, the Police Department holds Kids N Cops Hockey tournaments, a bike rodeo with a local preschool, and hunter safety courses to name a few.
For residents of culturally diverse backgrounds, the Police Department participates in Ghanafest which celebrates residents from across the Twin Cities with Ghana heritage. They also host New Americans Academy to give residents new to the U.S. and the community information on state and federal laws and how to interact with law enforcement. Harder says the goal of the New Americans Academy is “to let [new residents] know who we are and what we can do for them.”
|Ghanafest celebrates residents with Ghana heritage.|
Of the things the Police Department has tried, Harder highlights the Shop With a Cop event, Father/Daughter Dance, and the portable climbing wall because of the connection they establish with youth.
“It creates a positive contact,” he says. “They now feel comfortable coming up and talking to us.”
Shop With a Cop is an annual event where officers take local, at-risk children shopping to purchase holiday gifts for their families. Each child receives $100 for gifts, then spends the day at a holiday party with the officers wrapping gifts, listening to holiday music, and sipping hot chocolate.
Last Valentine’s Day was the first Father/Daughter Dance hosted by the Police Department. The goal was to give young girls a “first date” experience with fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or other special people in their lives. The event featured a dinner, music, dancing, and other activities for girls and their dates.
The Police Department’s mobile climbing wall has also been a very effective tool for reaching young people. Harder recalls a time when the Police Department brought the climbing wall to an event with many children from Cambodia in attendance.
At first, the children were so scared of the officers they were upset and crying, but they soon warmed up when given the chance to play, he says. Within 10 minutes, the children were smiling and laughing as they scaled the wall.
And the department recently added another fun item—a portable zip line! Much like the climbing wall, Harder says he expects the zip line to help them make more community connections.
In connecting with a diverse community, Harder says he and his officers learned to navigate cultural differences brought to light through some programs and events.
With Ghanafest and New Americans Academy, Harder says he learned the concept of time is different across cultures. For example, one program was scheduled for 11 a.m. but attendees began to arrive at about 1 p.m.
At first, he thought no one was interested in coming to these cultural programs, but when he noticed people were coming later than expected, he began to anticipate a difference in timing.
|Police officers play floor hockey with community kids.|
City Administrator Nyle Zikmund says, in addition to official programming, some efforts are meant to engage the community in a casual way without a formal structure.
“Some of these things are very subtle; they’re out there just having fun,” Zikmund says. The goal of outreach efforts is the same, however: to develop relationships between police and community and “break those barriers down,” he says.
Harder says the impact of the relationships he and his officers create goes far beyond their work. “This is good for us as human beings,” says Harder. “We see people on their worst days and this gives us a chance to be with them on their best days.”
Other cities should give it a try
Harder encourages other cities interested in increasing their outreach efforts to go for it. “Don’t be afraid to try something,” he says. Even if it doesn’t turn out the first time, “there’s always a better way to do something.”
The Mounds View Police Department managed to create these opportunities with limited resources, thanks to local partners, volunteers, and a receptive community. Other cities can generate engagement in their communities too, regardless of resources.
“You don’t need a budget,” Harder says. “You just need passion.”
Written by former LMC Intern McKayla Collins.